The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Those Interesting Days And Events

By William P. Swartz, Jr. © 1985

Issue: May, 1985

School days have always been a foremost part of our memories. An old saying is, "The older a person is, the farther they walked to school." Walking to school was an accepted part of life. A one mile walk required 18 to 20 minutes. A two mile walk required 35 to 45 minutes. I never heard of a school bus until I was well out of college.

My grandfather, Major C. C. Worrell lived about 3 miles southwest of Hillsville. As a young man he was illiterate until he was 16 or 17 years old, at which time he determined to get an education. He started in school. The teacher gave him special assignments to do at home after teaching him one hour each day before the school hours for the regular students began. In three years time my grandfather completed what would be considered six grades and probably two years of high school. He then began teaching school but continued educating himself with the assistance of other more highly educated teachers. As a result when the Civil War began he was proficient in Latin at any level, in History, English, Mathematics, etc. and he was under thirty years of age. Because of his qualifications, he was a commissioned officer when he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He immediately borrowed some books on military tactics and organization and began a self-imposed course of study. Within a few months he was promoted to Captain and then to Major. He was wounded at the battle of Cloyd's Farm (near Dublin Mountain) and taken prisoner until the war ended.

When he returned home he taught school a short while until he married, began rearing a family and farming full time. But education remained a full time interest and likewise influenced all of his eight children who either taught school for a time or became lawyers upon graduation from College.

My Uncle E. E. Worrell was a foremost educator of his day. He was a well known school principal in Carroll County, later in Roanoke City and from there he rose to be Supervisor of Elementary Education for the state of Virginia which position he held for 25 years until his death in 1938. He was a graduate of William and Mary College and was responsible for recruiting many young Carroll, Grayson, Floyd and Patrick County students to enter William and Mary. While serving as a principal in Carroll county, for a number of years he conducted a summer Normal, generally at Fairview which was some three miles southeast of Hillsville. There were boarding facilities there and also with some of the nearby residents. Teachers and would-be teachers enrolled there for six weeks of teacher training. Their completion certificates enabled them to raise their qualified level and grade of teaching and also to enter colleges, universities and some professions. The Cooley Brothers, E. J. and E. M. were two of his students, William and Mary recruits, and followed to become likewise known as outstanding educators. The summer Normals were discontinued when the Legislature established four full time Normal Schools in 1906 at Radford, Farmville, Fredericksburg and Harrisonburg.

While my Uncle E.E. was principal of Woodlawn Academy at Woodlawn, Virginia some of his brothers, sisters and cousins came under his tutelage, all said he was more stern and strict with them than with others. The Woodlawn Academy graduates generally received the better teaching positions in the four county area previously mentioned.

In the school year of 1890-1891, my Uncle John Worrell enrolled in order to get a teaching certificate. My cousin Edward C. Watson also enrolled in order to get a certificate to enter the Richmond Medical College. Both boarded that winter with a Mrs. Kinzer who lived about a mile east of Woodlawn. John was a mischievous person while Ed Watson was more serious minded. In the spring and about three weeks before school was to be out they were walking to school one morning along the Hillsville-Woodlawn road, when they looked across the fields and saw a covered wagon approaching Woodlawn on a road from the south.

John said, "Ed, there is Jack Allen hauling a load of whiskey and brandy to the company stores at Poplar Camp and Austinville. Let's cut across the fields, head him off and get him to sell us some." They did, got him to stop his wagon and passed the time of day with him. Very shortly John said, "Jack, how about letting us have a couple gallons of whiskey?" (There was a government licensed distillery, then called a "Still House", at the foot of the mountain about midway between Mt. Airy and Low Gap, N. C. regulated and controlled by a state government official called the "Gauager" who collected the state tax on each gallon of distilled spirits. There was also a "Still House" at Stuart, Virginia where the late T. Y. Houchins, a prominent Mason of Virginia was the last "Gauager" when Prohibition was voted, approved, in 1916.)

Jack said, "Boys, I would sell you some but all I have is in 4 and 4/5 gallon demijohn wooden kegs and I don't have anything to put any in," John said, "Ed, you stay here and don't let him get away while I go up here to the Woodlawn store and get a container." In about 15 or 20 minutes he returned with a 20 cent coal oil (kerosene) can and Jack had no alternative but to open a keg and sell them 1 1/2 gallons. I do not recall if it was whiskey or brandy but the price was $1.25. Whereupon they both had a drink and went on to school but not until they had deposited their can in the bottom of a hollow tree and covered it with leaves. Some fifty years afterward Ed told me, "That was the handiest drinking can I ever saw. We would loosen the top to let the air in and drink out of the spout and it worked just right."

From then on until school was out they visited their tree cache morning and afternoon on their way to and from school. On the last morning of school they took a pint bottle and filled it with the remainder, and threw the empty can into the bushes. John placed the bottle in the waistband of his trousers and they went on to school. The final exercises ended about 12:30 or 1:00 P.M. John and Ed were among the last to leave the school yard. They had gone about 30 steps down the road when John pulled the bottle out and said, "Let's have a drink and celebrate." They did. Looking back John saw my Uncle E. E. coming out of the school yard with his books and records under his arm. He said, "Ed, let's offer "Bud" a drink." Ed said, "John, are you crazy?" John said, "He can't do anything to us now. School is out and we are off the grounds. I bet old Bud would like a dram." They waited until my Uncle E. E. came up to them. John said, "Bud, would you like a drink of some good liquor?" My Uncle E. E. was startled. He knitted his brows and in his sternest manner said, "You boys don't have any liquor do you? You know my rules as well as I do." "Yes we do and you can't do anything about it. It is the best you ever tasted. Now do you want a drink or not?", John replied. Uncle E. E. thought a moment, saw there was no one else around and said," Let me see what you have." John gave it to him, my uncle placed his thumb about 2 inches below the fluid line, turned up the bottle to drink, then brought it down and showing the bottle to the boys that the fluid line was just exactly at the top of his thumb, he said, "If you are going to drink, which you should not do, but if you do, be sure it is good liquor and be sure you know how much to drink and no more." With that he marched off down the road. John said, "Ed, you know that onerous Bud never even thanked us. I wish we had not given him any." "No he didn't," Ed replied, "but he is still the teacher and he teaches good." In this Ed was most correct. Uncle E. E. although he ranked next to the State Superintendent of Schools, was still a teacher until he died. He could go into any elementary grade, observe for ten minutes and afterward, tell the teacher the exact textbook being used and the part of the book under discussion. He knew how to develop interest in a student and then develop the student. I have been told by many school authorities that my Uncle E. E. has never been surpassed as an educator of young people. He influenced the lives of many people in the Patrick, Floyd, Carroll and Grayson counties area.